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‘Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley’: Robert Palmer’s Slinky, Soulful Solo Debut

The album marked the first time we really got to hear Palmer’s alluring blend of R&B, reggae, and rock influences.

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Robert Palmer ‘Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley’ artwork - Courtesy: UMG
Robert Palmer ‘Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley’ artwork - Courtesy: UMG

From his earliest work, it was clear that Robert Palmer was an artist of rare musicality. But nothing in his early days, from the Alan Bown Set, via jazz-rock fusionists DaDa to Vinegar Joe, could quite have prepared anyone for the sonic sophistication and soulfulness of his 1974 solo debut for Island Records, Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley.

Any one of the 14 studio albums made by Palmer before his untimely passing at the age of 54 in 2003 is deserving of a new appreciation. But Sneakin’ Sally deserves special attention because it was the first time we really got to hear his alluring blend of R&B, reggae, and rock influences, and his uncommon skill both as a creator and interpreter of great subtlety.

The album laid bare Palmer’s love of the particular kind of soul that emanated from New Orleans, notably from the pen and the piano of Allen Toussaint. It was his song that gave the LP its title, as one of two covers, also including the haunting “From A Whisper To A Scream.” The “bottom end” of the record’s terrific sound was supplied by another of the great acts who had emerged from the Crescent City a few years earlier, the Meters. British players like Jim Mullen and Simon Phillips also contributed.

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Robert was equally taken with the slinky, soulful rock that was emerging at the time by Los Angeles hipsters Little Feat, and their frontman Lowell George. His song “Sailing Shoes,” the title track of the band’s second album from 1972, became the lead number on Palmer’s debut. Furthermore, George himself played guitar on the cover, and on four other tracks from the set. “I got a phone call,” George told Melody Maker in 1975, ‘Hey, how would you like to come to New Orleans and make an album with the Meters’ so I went down and made Robert Palmer’s album with Allen Toussaint.”

But the album also announced Palmer as a fine writer himself, with four new songs and a co-write with George on “Blackmail.” The closing track, “Through It All There’s You,” was a hypnotic, 12-minute treat featuring electric piano by his Island labelmate Steve Winwood.

It would not be until his third album Some People Can Do What They Like that Palmer would begin to make even modest inroads on the British audience, but Sneakin’ Sally found some favour in America, reaching No. 107 in a 15-week run.

Listen to Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley on Apple Music and Spotify.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Ellis Gitomer

    March 17, 2016 at 6:56 am

    Title track, “Sneakin Sally Through the Alley” is one of Allen Toussaint’s greatest compositions & arrangements.
    Robert Palmer nails this track like no other — one of his greatest all around tunes! More addicting than “Addicted to Love”. A perfect tune in every way! Rest in the hippest, blue eyed soul peace, Mr. Palmer. Missing you man. Another brilliant talent gone too soon.

  2. lg

    January 21, 2020 at 11:06 pm

    cool

  3. Santiago

    December 19, 2022 at 12:17 pm

    I bought this album in 1974 and have it to this day. It is a masterpiece. Lowell George, The Meters, Steve Winwood, and the magic of Allen Toussaint. All cookin’ together in New Orleans. Seasoned to perfection with the blue eyed soul, funk and rock of Robert Palmer. I am gifting the vinyl reissues to my daughter and daughter in law this Christmas.

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